The tap water supplied to the residents of the metropolitan city is extremely contaminated and unfit for human consumption, reveals a chemical analysis conducted at the Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation (KWSC) laboratory. It reveals the presence of E. coli, coliform bacteria, and other harmful pathogens in the tap water.
KWSC teams collected 137 water samples from different neighbourhoods of the city for the chemical analysis. Shockingly, 90 per cent of these samples lacked chlorine, as per the lab report. This lack of chlorine in the water may explain why 11 people have lost their lives to the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, this year.
The absence of chlorine in the water has been particularly concerning. The lab report highlights that water samples taken from Faqir Muhammad Goth in Malir district contained dangerous pathogens such as E coli and Vibrio cholera, making it unfit for human consumption or cooking. These bacteria are typically associated with sewage water contamination, while coliform bacteria, linked to human and animal waste, were also found in the tap water.
Read Sewage water compromising crop quality
Following the deaths caused by Naegleria fowleri, water samples were collected to measure chlorine levels. Alarmingly, swimming pools, including those in farmhouses, have not undergone routine chlorine level checks in recent years. The Sindh Health Department and relevant institutions have only initiated such assessments after the Naegleria-related deaths.
Naegleria fowleri thrives in warm water and can enter the human brain through the nasal passages. It primarily targets human brains for nourishment. To combat this brain-eating amoeba effectively, water tanks at homes should maintain a minimum chlorine level of 0.5ppm (parts per million). Water pumping stations require 2.5ppm of chlorine, while swimming pools should maintain a chlorine level of 2ppm. There is a lack of public awareness on the issue.
The Health Department’s public health division, which used to educate the people of Sindh, especially Karachi, on various health issues, including malaria, dengue, and Naegleria, was disbanded in 2017. Five years ago, a committee comprising experts from the Health Department, Food Department, KWSC, and Public Health Engineering was formed to monitor chlorine levels in drinking water and swimming pools at hotels and farmhouses across Karachi.
Also read Water conservation in lower regions of Sindh stressed
The committee also checked chlorine levels in areas where Naegleria cases were reported and in water tanks at affected patients’ homes. This year, the brain-eating amoeba has claimed 11 lives, a rise attributed to the dissolution of the chlorine monitoring committee. Currently, there is no organisation in place to monitor the quality of water supplied in Karachi.
Dr Wahid Rajput from the Sindh Infectious Disease Hospital in NIPA explained that Naegleria fowleri thrives in water with low chlorine levels. He added that many households do not clean their water tanks or add chlorine, allowing the bacterium to multiply and enter the brain through the nasal passage when people wash their faces. This incurable illness manifests with symptoms like nausea and high fever. Dr Rajput recommended adding sulfur to water tanks or using chlorine tablets to prevent Naegleria contamination.
Director of Health Dr Hameed Jamani said that, in line with Health Minister Dr Saad Niaz’s direction, water samples from every district in Karachi are being collected and tested for chlorine levels. He suggested making it mandatory for households to regularly clean their water tanks to address this alarming issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th2023.